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China Eyes US-Japan Security Upgrade Plan 


washington — Washington and Tokyo are gearing up to unveil plans to restructure the U.S. military command in Japan in what would be the biggest upgrade to their security alliance in decades.

China has already objected, saying it does not want to be a target of the defense plans that Washington and Tokyo are expected to announce at a summit in April.

“China always believes that military cooperation between states should be conducive to regional peace and stability, instead of targeting any third party or harming the interests of a third party,” Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said Tuesday via email to VOA.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson pushed back in an email to VOA’s Korean Service on Wednesday. “The U.S.-Japan alliance has served as the cornerstone of peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and across the world for over seven decades and has never been stronger,” the spokesperson said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Japanese counterpart, Akiba Takeo, met at the White House on Tuesday to discuss “next steps to finalize key deliverables” that President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will announce when they meet April 10 in Washington.

During a news briefing Monday in Tokyo, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said his country was in discussion with Washington about strengthening the command and control of their militaries to enhance readiness.

The discussion comes as Indo-Pacific Command chief Admiral John Aquilino told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on March 20 that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is preparing to invade Taiwan by 2027.

‘Long overdue’

Ralph Cossa, president emeritus and WSD-Handa chair in peace studies at the Pacific Forum, told VOA via email on Wednesday, “The time is long overdue to upgrade the command structure in Japan so that the U.S. and Japanese militaries can operate together more seamlessly” in the region.

The plan to restructure the command is meant to “strengthen operational planning and exercises” between the two and is seen as “a move to counter China,” according to the Financial Times, which first reported about the plan on March 24.

James Schoff, senior director of the U.S.-Japan NEXT Alliance Initiative at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, said, “This is probably the single most important step that the allies can take to enhance deterrence against regional threats and respond to any sort of major crisis.”

“This is especially true at this moment as Japan prepares to stand up its first joint operational command and introduces longer-range counterstrike capabilities,” he said via email to VOA on Wednesday.

Japan plans to set up a joint operations command by March 2025 to improve coordination among its air, ground and maritime Self-Defense Forces (JSDF).

The updated command structure within U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) is expected to complement Japan’s establishment of its joint operations command.  

Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Indo-Pacific Security Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, said, “Although the details are yet to be determined, the plan is to enhance the USFJ’s authority within INDOPACOM [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command].”

He continued via email to VOA on Tuesday that the revised U.S. military command “will also have greater institutional ability to communicate and coordinate with the JSDF.”

Currently, USFJ has limited authority to conduct joint operations with Japan. The commander of USFJ needs to coordinate its operation with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, located in Hawaii.

On Tuesday, Biden nominated Air Force Major General Stephen F. Jost as the new commander of USFJ and promoted him to lieutenant general.

Schoff said that “the existing parallel chain of command would remain” in the U.S. and Japanese militaries rather than “a single allied chain of command for both U.S. and Japanese forces.”

This will be unlike the South Korean-U.S. Combined Forces Command led by a U.S. general during wartime.

James Przystup, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and its Japan chair specializing in alliance management in the Indo-Pacific, said the upgrades in U.S. military command in Japan “would serve to enhance U.S.-Japan defense cooperation and deterrence in Northeast Asia, both with respect to North Korea and China.”

He continued via email to VOA on Wednesday, “As for what this might look like in practice, the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command could be one model, but not necessarily the one [into which it] eventually evolves.”